Education is one of the fundamental bases of society. Public colleges have represented a strong issue for years. The conditions of work were one of the aspects under debate, but the philosophy that should guide the activity of the public colleges was another theme of utmost importance. Why? Because what it does is actually set the guiding lines for the entire curriculum. The African -American question arises naturally under these consequences. The present paper will analyze the philosophies of two important figures in this area, namely Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
It is considered that the agenda of the community colleges is in fact a political agenda. This is true if you consider that social regulations implied by the process of education in these colleges. Both the mentioned authors have suggested educational philosophies that were aimed at improving the condition of the blacks in the United Sates of America. This is the main thing that they have in common. All the other elements that are included in their writings are different. We will analyze these differences later.
First of all we need to mention the fact that both of them lived in a period where the social situation of the blacks was rather sensitive. It was characterized by low levels of education and high levels of poverty. And as if this was not enough, the discrimination levels were huge. American whites considered blacks as an inferior race. Under these circumstances it is easy to understand why the two thinkers aimed at changing something for their fellowmen. Obviously the need for change referred to a change of mentality. It was impossible to change the mentality of the white people, therefore, the only solution that made sense was to address to the blacks.
The approaches of the two thinkers are nevertheless different. Washington for example managed to fund on his own the Tuskegee Institute which was the biggest one in the U.S. Of its type, bigger than the ones for white citizens. Judging this achievement from the point-of-view of the context in which it was taking place we can state that it is more than remarkable. "Tuskegee was a prototypical community college emphasizing industrial and technical education. Basic literacy was taught to remedy the poor public education that most African-Americans received, and Tuskegee also offered a teacher-training program to improve African-American schools." (Garrett, 2007) The main purpose was to allow the black people acquire an education good enough to allow them to work and achieve a certain social status in the community where they lived.
The goal of college education in Washington's opinion was to create a mentality according to which it was better to "to earn a dollar in a factory job than spend one attending an opera." (Garrett, 2007) Reading between the lines we understand that his ideals were rather pragmatic. He believed that having a good job was the key for successful living because a good job meant good money. A decent salary allowed for the construction of a social status that was equal with the one of the white citizens.
It is interesting to notice the high level of pragmatism in Washington's philosophy. He knew that a radical change was impossible over night. Therefore he conceived a philosophy that would slowly but surely allow the black to become integrated. He preached a philosophy of modesty and hard work.
These are values which can be considered universally valuable despite the passage of time. If education allowed black people to acquire skills they would next use for the achievement of their tasks on the job, then it meant that education allowed them to become important resources for society.
Du Bois preached a completely different philosophy. While Washington believed that focusing on basic jobs that society needs in order to function properly was the key to the entire issue, Du Bois was a lot more idealistic. In his opinion, education in community colleges was supposed to deal not only with aspects regarding the acquisition of skills for future jobs, but also with arts and philosophy "Du Bois rejected the Tuskegee "industrial machine" model and instead urged intellectual education that grappled with political, moral, and artistic issues. He criticized Tuskegee's philosophy as "a gospel of Work and Money" that would almost completely "overshadow the higher aims of life." (Garrett, 2007)
We are clearly dealing with different paradigms. On the one hand a person is speaking about real every day life and the obstacles which occur suggesting an immediate solution for their surpassing. On the other one, another is speaking about high ideals in life. Which can be the best solution taking into consideration the already mentioned social and economical contexts?
It can be argued that the bets solution was the one provided by Washington. After all, high ideals in life may be noble but they do not put food on the table at the end of the day. A secure job does this. this is all true, but we may consider looking at the big picture. All the important changes that have taken place in history have been caused by agents who had great life ideals. The purpose was to succeed in changing the status of the black community. It was a limit situation so perhaps an exaggerated and daring solution was needed.
Teaching arts, politics, philosophy etc. allows the student to develop not only an important general culture, but also a relevant capacity of analyzing things, of judging them with an objective eye and not being influenced by stereotypes.
In the absence of all these things, the black citizen achieves a job but is still easy to manipulate by whites with a superior education. The goal being to achieve power, wouldn't it be really better for educational curricula to include nobler class subjects such as arts, politics and philosophy?
Here we are again tempted to answer yes, but then we go back to the writings of Washington and wonder if teaching French to a back student who lives in sheer poverty can be of any use. At this point of the discussion we may wonder if a middle way between the two philosophies would not be the best solution.
The differences between the presented "doctrines" is closely connected with the personal background of the two writers. It must be mentioned right from the beginning that both of them were black and that both lived in a period in which life for the blacks was not easy at all. These are the things that they had in common from this point-of-view. Their life routes however are completely different and have marked their approaches to the matter of education. "Washington, born a slave in 1856, lacked formal education until he was 16 and was fixated on safety and survival needs. Du Bois, born free in 1868 and not exposed to racism until midchildhood, had his basic needs satisfied by well-off parents and earned a Harvard doctorate. His focus was on esteem and self-actualization." (Garrett, 2007) It is easy to understand now why their values were different. It was all a matter of personal experience regarding life in general and on a day-to-day basis as well.
The ideas of the two thinkers continue to be relevant today because the question remains the same. Is it better to focus more on modesty and hard work, basic skills, etc. Or rather on developing the mind and thus increasing the chances for producing visionary minds that are more likely to change society for the better?
It is true that high ideals have been the engine which has motivated the masses to change the course of history. But at the same time, it is just as true that poverty is an issue which needs to be addressed on a daily basis and must be solved immediately. The philosophical side to the matter however is not the only important one.
The debate is still open because there is an ethical side to it as well. Schools are parts of a system which is meant to serve the citizen and the best interest of the country at the same time. What is the best interest of the citizen from this point-of-view? To finish school with huge ideals in his mind or prepared for a job? And what happens when a conflict occurs between the best interest of the citizen and that of the state?
A further aspect that must be taken into consideration when continuing with the debate is the practical one. Teaching arts and philosophy is one thing, teaching skills for industrial jobs is another. From this point-of-view, the debate reaches the very conception and organization of the school curricula. This has a direct impact on the preparation of the teachers as well.
Another aspect that comes to mind in this debate is the one regarding the relation between blacks and whites. The fact that Du Bois and Washington are still very important today may give us a hint about the fact that the blacks still…